Interview by Shannon Lawlor
Jenny Dison aka LUMA is an experimental-electronic artist hailing from Johannesburg, South Africa. Fusing together elements of dream-pop, deep-house and electronica, LUMA’s ability to mesmer is evident in her music alone. Joined live on stage by multi-instrumentalist Alex Leeu, Dison has collaborated with notable local artists, friends and members of Sol Gems, Bye Beneco, Thor Rixon, Card on Spokes and Tshepang Ramoba of BLK JKS, to name but a few. LUMA has released a handful of self-released singles with plans to expand her back catalogue into something so much more.
LUMA is set to perform at Cape Town’s picturesque Endless Daze festival on November 3-5, surrounded by lush scenery and it’s inevitable power to impress.
We spoke with Jenny Dison of LUMA on her journey through electronic music and how to change the music industry:
For anyone new to LUMA’s ethereal sonority, could you give us some insight into how the project was formed?
I started off my music career with Bye Beneco, I always loved the music we made together. During the three years I was in the band I would write my own songs on the side and didn’t really know what to do with them because they were so different from Bye Beneco’s sound. After a while I decided to pursue a solo project. I knew I would need to find producers that understood where I was coming from musically and would be able to compliment the sound I was going for. Tshepang Ramoba (BLK JKS), a good friend of mine, suggested that I work with him on some of the tracks. We always had a great musical chemistry, he really encouraged me to pursue another project that was in a more electronic direction. He was the catalyst that pushed me to form LUMA. I then worked with Thor Rixon as a producer on a track called ‘All The While’ with Ying-Poi De Lacy, which got me so excited about making electronic music. After leaving Bye Beneco at the end of 2015, I met up with an old friend Alex Coetzee (Leeu) and we gelled instantly. LUMA really started with the addition of Alex and we have been making music together ever since while having special guests like Stru Stru (Sol Gems), Moonchild Sanely, Forune and Saul Nossel (Go Barefoot), add to all the tracks. I had this preconceived idea about electronic music. I was worried that I’d be put in a box, the opposite has happened, it has opened up my sound so that I can really introduce any kind of musical idea and allow it to also sound organic and raw.
When composing music with so many artists from a collaborative ethic, how do recording sessions differ while integrating so many influences into your sound, musically, or otherwise?
Everyone I have worked with brings a specific energy to a song. They all differ in personalities and in musical background. This means that producing and rehearsing always sparks interesting ideas. The artists I work with are generally adding to an existing piece of music though. Most of the collaborations have occurred after I have got a foundation of a song down with a producer. The two songs that stand out for me are ‘See you Again’ and ‘All The While’. Both of these songs were formed with those collaborators. Stru helped me write the chord progressions and some of the lyrics to ‘See You Again’ and Ying and I composed ‘All The While’ together instrumentally. Those songs have unique qualities to them because of the collaborator but all the songs hold a specific whimsical style that is noticeably characteristic of LUMA.
If LUMA could collaborate with any artist on the planet – who would it be, and why?
Aaaah there are so many people!!! So many of the artists I have always dreamed of working with have died. To name a few…Prince, Fela Kuti, David Bowie… But a few current artists that would really suit the sound I am going for is Damon Albarn, Anderson Paak, Kevin Parker and all the members of Little Dragon. These artists and producers would understand the direction I’m going in and would take my music to the next level. I have a really long list of people I would want to work with but the artists mentioned all have a unique approach to their specific genres that I would love to incorporate in LUMA.
On November 4th, LUMA is set to perform at Endless Daze Festival located in South Africa. What are you most looking forward to about this experience?
I have always wanted to perform at Endless Daze since it started. It is so cool to see an independent festival curating such an interesting line-up every year, and not only get top SA acts but amazing international bands that we would otherwise not be able to see in SA. So I’m obviously just excited to attend the festival, but to be able to perform there is honestly a dream. The thing I’m most looking forward to is performing to a new crowd among avid music listeners. I know that the people attending the festival are really interested in listening to new artists. Which is so encouraging. Often, festival goers are just interested in partying, Endless Daze feels like the type of event people go to get lost in the music. The beach and the scenery will also be a huge plus….and it’s our first Cape Town festival!
If LUMA could single handedly-change the music industry, how would you do it?
This is something I think about often. I have always been passionate about the SA music scene and I am genuinely interested in finding ways to elevate the level at which we are treated. These are the obvious problems within the alternative music scene in SA. If I could fix these issues I believe a lot would change. There are so many fundamental complexities in the industry here so I’m going to try keep it as succinct as possible. The lack of venues is a huge problem. With this comes other problems, bad sound, not enough experienced sound engineers and promoters taking artists for a ride. There are so many levels that the industry needs to focus on so that we can have a working healthy music industry where artists, managers, promoters, engineers, producers etc are able to make a living. It can all start by South Africans showing more support to local artist than to international artists. I am so tired of seeing great bands break up because they can’t sustain a music career. We are all despondent at times because we seem to hit a wall as artists unless we move overseas. That’s why festivals are always so exciting because you know there will be a great crowd, great sound and you’re generally well looked after by the promoters. If everything could be run like that in SA our music scene would thrive!
What piece of equipment, instrument, software or quality do you feel is essential to LUMA’s distinct, hypnotic style?
The Microkorg XL is a great little instrument, I mainly write music on it, I very rarely use a guitar. It’s a small keyboard but it’s so versatile. It has so many different settings and you can manipulate them to get really interesting sounds. All of my songs are layered with different sounds from one of the Microkorgs, I have a few. The most important element in production is that I make a conscious decision to use everyday objects (mostly kitchenware) like cups, glasses pots and pans to get interesting percussive sounds. I love tapping spoons wooden/metal on different objects and then playing around with delay/reverb and modulating the beats. Every producer I’ve worked with uses Ableton and I’m starting to learn how to use it. It’s a great program because it’s so accessible and has a lot of features.
What does the future hold for LUMA?
After Endless Daze we are going to do a little tour in Cape Town from 6 – 13 November. I will also be playing at The Waiting Room on the 7th of November and at House of Machines on the 9th of November. We plan to come back to Cape Town in December. The biggest thing for us to focus on is releasing more music. This will happen really soon and a full album is in the pipeline. Next year is going to be super exciting with some more festivals and a European tour.
LUMA will be performing live at Endless Daze festival in Cape Town, South Africa, 3 – 5 November
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